GLEN ALLEN, VA – The rise of thin-film, organic and printable electronics, and the trend toward endowing objects with as much electronic intelligence as possible with the goal of creating environments that enhance comfort, productivity and entertainment value, will create major business opportunities in the next few years, says research firm NanoMarkets.

The variety of names used for the second trend cover up the fact that there is nothing new about enhancing objects electronically, NanoMarkets says; inexpensive electronics have been used for decades in such applications as magnetic strips on credit cards and tickets, lights and audio effects for inexpensive toys and novelties, and certain security tags.

The latest developments in TOP electronics enable embedded electronics of this kind to move to the next level of complexity, the researcher notes. Thanks to TOP electronics, the magnetic credit card can be transfigured into a thin, wallet-size smartcard with its own display and an onboard printed processor, says the firm.

One of the major implications is that this intelligence can be in objects easily discarded with few consequences; hence the term disposable electronics. These products hold little essential value, so that disposing of them is not an issue. You may keep your credit card for several years, but cutting it up when it expires is not a big deal, NanoMarkets says.

Disposable electronics is characterized by high-cost sensitivity to materials, fabrication and components, and the need to create electronic functionality in products not especially durable.

TOP electronics addresses this by permitting creation of moderately complex electronics using printing/solution processing. Such fabrication processes are less expensive than the conventional deposition and patterning technologies. The direction of TOP electronics is toward fabrication on inexpensive flexible substrates, especially paper and plastic, says NanoMarkets.

Such substrates will facilitate the use of R2R fabrication and addresses the need to create electronics on paper/plastic substrates. Therefore, TOP electronics and disposable electronics go well together, says the research firm.

While TOP electronics could prove a key enabler for disposable electronics, it also presents challenges. Creating electronics on plastic and paper has yet to be perfected, for one. The printing technologies most widely used today for printed electronics - screen and inkjet - may not be easily scalable to high-volume production. And some of the materials used for printed and organic electronics may be expensive; silver is widely used and gold is common in R&D, explains NanoMarkets.

Printed electronics could reduce item-level RFID tags to just a few pennies, making wide-scale tagging possible. However, registration and resolution in high-speed printing may not be good enough; optimal materials have yet to be determined; inline printing along with graphics has not been established, and the result of competition with conventional chips created in depreciated fabs has not been determined. 

With regard to other smart packaging, opportunities include the addition of sensors and displays to show the condition of products in the package and how often the package has been opened, etc. Brand enhancement and advertising using electronics features are also possible. However, value is limited to niche applications and volume opportunity may be limited.

Low-cost, updateable pricing labels based on e-paper technology can be created for point-of-presence displays. These can improve retail efficiency and be operated under low power; volume potential is large. However, this concept is not well established, and printed/thin-film batteries are currently expensive. Also, e-paper does not offer color, although it soon will, NanoMarkets says.

On smartcards, electrochromic/e-paper displays can be added for additional security and other features. Printable transistors and memories may ultimately prove less costly than conventional chips. The small form factor of printable/thin-film batteries may make this kind of battery highly suitable in this application, and there is a large volume opportunity.

Although, not many TOP electronics companies focus on this opportunity at present, and organic/printed chips vs. conventional silicon is even less a settled issue than RFID. Powered chips are only just beginning to appear. Also, the high-temperature lamination may damage delicate organic transistors, says the researcher.

With this technology, features could be added to existing games/toys or could be used to create new ones. However, games and toys are notoriously subject to market failures, and volumes may be quite small, NanoMarkets says.

Finally, there is considerable potential for electronic enhancement of medical products through innovations such as smart bandages, low-cost diagnostic products and patches. But, the product approval process is much more difficult than in any other area. Few TOP electronics firms are looking at this area yet.
 
ATLANTA UP Media Group Inc., parent company of Circuits Assembly and Printed Circuit Design & Fab, announced today that online registration for Virtual PCB, the industry's first virtual trade show and conference for the PCB design, fabrication and assembly markets, will open on Dec. 7.
VANCOUVER – Dr. Shigeo Shingo, credited with codeveloping TPS, also known as Lean, has published a new book called Kaizen and the Art of Creative Thinking.
 
In the book, Dr. Shingo reveals how he taught Toyota and other Japanese companies the art of identifying and solving problems.
 
Six models – the scientific thinking mechanism – are presented. These frameworks permit groups to deconstruct problems and rebuild them into improvement ideas. This concept is said to provide the foundation for any Lean initiative.
 
Dr. Shingo co-created the Lean concepts with Taiichi Ohno in the 1940s and 1950s while working at the Amano Manufacturing Plant in Yokohama, Japan.
 
To download a chapter of the book, visit http://www.superfactory.com/articles/Bodek_Kaizen_Creative_Excerpt.htm
 
The book is available at www.enna.com
 
MUNICH – The final tally is in, and the numbers reveal Productronica as – still – the world’s largest electronics manufacturing trade show. Some 1,484 exhibitors from 35 countries attended last week’s show.
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SAN JOSE, CA – North American-based manufacturers of semiconductor equipment posted $1.23 billion in orders in October and a book-to-bill ratio of 0.83, according to SEMI.

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SCOTTSDALE, AZ – Smartphone OS-based phones will grow at more than a 30% CAGR for the next five years globally, taking an increasing share of the overall phone market otherwise growing in single digits, reports In-Stat.
 
The unit volume of smartphones globally exceeds the unit sales for laptops, according to the research firm.
 
Users are experiencing significant value from their smartphones, In-Stat says. As a result, they are downloading more applications and generating higher usage as measured by average revenue per user for wireless carriers. 
 
“Because of the value users are finding, organizations are slowly taking ownership of smartphones and data applications used for business purposes,” says Bill Hughes, In-Stat analyst. “Rather than having overcomplicated reimbursement plans, more organizations are finding it more expedient and economical to treat wireless voice and data services as a business expense when they use smartphones.”
 
Research by In-Stat found the following: All smartphone OSs (other than the Palm OS) will grow at double digits during the next five years; a smartphone user who travels has twice the ARPU of a typical feature phone user; smartphone use will grow mostly from use as a laptop replacement, and as a tool to help manufacturers develop feature phones.

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